Posted by Daniel Tonks on April 1, 2010 at 12:40 AM
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering a proposal that would place a ban on the sale of all unregulated radio frequency (RF) remote controls. “The matter is one of security and privacy” says Craig Whitcomb, spokesperson for the Commission.
Traditionally, RF remote controls have transmitted on so-called unregulated radio frequencies at 418MHz or 433MHz. But unlike other common household radio broadcast devices such as cellular telephones or WiFi networks, remote controls are not currently required to contain unique identifiers, or to encrypt their communications. The proposal is based on an internal study performed by the Commission’s Office of Engineering and Technology, which warns that the existing lack of security protocols on many RF-enabled control systems exposes them to unauthorized access.
Says Whitcomb of the potential risks, “Thieves are more sophisticated now than ever before. Black market radio frequency ‘sniffers’ are being used to analyze and decode the command carriers of home electronics, and within 10 minutes [the thieves] have an exact list of everything inside your house – all from outdoors without stepping onto your property”. Based on this information thieves then pick the most appealing targets to burglarize.
Whitcomb added that beyond the latent security issues, there are also denial-of-operation considerations. “With an open RF system, anyone within a several hundred foot radius of your home and a basic knowledge of electronics would be able to change what you’re watching on television, or even prevent you from watching anything.”
The study recommends that the Commission halt the sale of all unencrypted remote controls priced at more than $250 within 8 months, and the remainder within 30 months. Said Whitcomb of the proposed legislation, “With today’s home-centric society, it just makes a lot of sense. No one would think that something as innocuous as a TV remote could be the weak link in their household’s security, but in the 21st century everything is suspect.”